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Dear Wendy
Dear Wendy

“Should I Say Yes to Babysitting My Niece Once a Week?”

From the forums:

My brother has a daughter, my beautiful little niece, who is approaching 2 years old. Bit of a back story on my brother: He has never really been able to hold a job for very long (usually from preferring to sleep or go out drinking with his mates than go to work), he has been in and out of trouble with the law for most of his adult life, he’s not respectful of women in many ways, and he has a foul temper. (To my knowledge he has never laid his hands on a woman, but he has been known to get into many many fights with other men – often his own friends, and he has threatened our mother with physical violence in the past.)

My brother had been used to our mother having his daughter for three, sometimes four, days a week so that he and his girlfriend (my niece’s mother) were able to go to work. However, it is common knowledge that my brother often didn’t go to work during those days and would just sleep or get high (yes, he uses marijuana too). Recently, my mother moved out of the country, leaving my brother without an on-demand babysitter for my niece. So I knew it wouldn’t be long before my phone started ringing.

He has since been in touch with me asking whether I would have my niece one day a week. I don’t know whether to say yes or no. My son is 11 years old and I never got the help from our mother that my brother did. My son’s father and I did it almost completely by ourselves and we’re happy we did. However, throughout the years, and even since my brother had his daughter, my brother has made nasty comments to me about my “motherhood,” claiming his girlfriend is a natural mother whereas I, apparently, am not, arguing that my having my mother babysit on an occasional Friday night meant I was lazy (I stopped her having my son overnight because he hated it).

All these reasons and some others make me want to say no to his request that I babysit one day a week. He has complained how difficult his daughter is, allegedly constantly crying no matter what he does, that he doesn’t get a break, that it’s so hard, etc. A huge part of me is glad he’s finally experiencing the reality of parenthood (especially in the younger years) so he knows it’s not as easy as he made it out to be prior to his having children of his own. I would love to spend time with my niece and develop a relationship with her, and I am free (for the time-being) to do so.

Am I just being spiteful if I refuse and tell him to deal with it like most other parents (including myself) had to? I feel like I would just be being spiteful, so I’m leaning towards saying yes. I would also much rather my niece be with me than around her father when he’s stressed out as he’s not a pleasant presence when he’s in one of his moods and she deserves better than that. — Worried Aunt

I’ve been on vacation – from my kids, because parenting is hard and I needed a break! I was away from them for four whole days, which is the longest I’ve ever been apart from them and it was great! — so I didn’t have a chance to comment on your letter when you first posted in in the forums, but I did want to chime in here, especially since some people were encouraging you to go ahead and watch your niece one day a week if you have the time and you think you’d enjoy it and you are leaning towards saying “yes” to your brother. I wanted to be sure to tell you, no, don’t do that! Hard, hard pass on agreeing to a regular babysitting day and here’s why: it won’t ever be enough for your brother; he’s already accused you of being a bad mom, so it’s natural that he’ll accuse you of being a bad caregiver to his daughter, which will open a big can of worms; and the responsibility of a weekly obligation to someone who has shown so little responsibility himself will eat away at you. Don’t do it.

It’s admirable that you want to protect your niece, though it isn’t your job to do so. But watching her one day a week isn’t the best way to do that. Instead, focus on building a relationship through spending time with her that isn’t regularly scheduled, that isn’t a weekly obligation. Ask your brother if you can take her for the day on a weekend when you have time and energy. Have her over for an afternoon, take her to the zoo, or to a toddler reading at the library, or for a stroll in the park and some ice cream. Do normal aunt things on your own time, on your own schedule, when you feel like it because you want to spend time with your niece and to be a source of love and comfort in her life as she grows up, and not as a favor to your brother whom you can barely tolerate, from the sounds of it. Your brother, wanting any break he can get from his daughter, will likely take you up on any invitation you make to take your niece off his hands for a bit. He’ll probably keep pushing for more, because that’s his M.O., and you just keep saying “no.” You keep setting your boundaries and building your relationship with your niece on your own terms and not your brother’s. If you don’t, and you decide to go ahead and take on the responsibility of a weekly babysitting gig so your brother can sit around getting high and thinking up new ways of manipulating you, you may end up wanting to join your mother in moving out of the country, just saying.

I have a summer home in a far away country (think 12-hour flight). Before Covid, we’d visit it two or three times a year and the couple that manages the property would clean before we came and after we left. We were last here in 2019 and were just able to come back earlier this summer. The problem? The cleaning was atrocious. When my son walked around barefoot, his feet were filthy in a matter of minutes. (Much of the furniture is white upholstery). I broke out the mop, etc., and cleaned the apartment thoroughly myself — not how I wanted to spend my first full jet-lagged day here.

Usually the cleaning job is excellent. The stove is sparkling. The floors are clean. There’s little dust. I can’t remember if it was something the wife part of the manager team said, but I think she cleaned the apartment instead of hiring out. The managers’ main income comes from a fair number of AirBnBs, so I’m not sure if they lost their cleaning staff or cleaned the apartment themselves to save money, but it wasn’t great.

Now that I’m vaccinated and have to use all my travel vouchers within a fairly short span of time, I plan on coming back in a couple of months. In the meantime, I’m loaning the property to a friend. How do I ask her to get it really clean and not surface clean before my friend comes and before we return? I don’t want to offend, but I also HATE dirt. — Housekeeping Dilemma

 

You’re paying this couple to manage your property, right? And the service they’ve provided has declined, yes? So, simply say: “We noticed on our recent stay at the house that it wasn’t as sparkling clean as it normally is. Has there been a change in the cleaning service? I have a friend staying in the property and I’d like it be at the pre-Covid standard of cleanliness previous guests have enjoyed. Is there anything you need from me to ensure it will be back to that level and not the less pristine standard it was when I arrived on my recent visit?” For good measure, make sure that what you are paying your property managers is comparable to what other property managers are paid in the area. If you are under-paying, they may feel they don’t owe you the level of care they would to someone paying more. If you’re paying a fair wage and your property managers continue to not live up to your expectations, it’s time to find someone who will.

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If you have a relationship/dating question I can help answer, you can send me your letters at wendy(AT)dearwendy.com.

5 comments… add one
  • laylas July 20, 2021, 2:32 pm

    LW1: Your brother sounds like an ass and a deadbeat, but why punish your niece for his behavior? If you want to, and have time to, be with the niece once a week, do so. I think aunt/uncle relationships are so important, especially in situations where the birth parents fall short. Spend the time with your niece. You’re doing it for her – and for you – not for your brother.

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  • Marie July 22, 2021, 11:34 am

    It’s admirable you’d like a relationship with your niece. But I agree with Wendy – be on your terms and timeframe so it’s meaningful and appreciated. I’m sure they would jump at the chance whenever you ask.
    Your man-child brother sounds like a mean, short-sighted jerk, and whatever you do for him won’t be enough, he’s a taker. Once a week will turn into more requests/demands, plus you’d have to frustratingly hear updates on how he lives his life, which frankly, is an adult acting like an irresponsible 17 year old.

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  • brise July 22, 2021, 2:40 pm

    I was going to say the exact same thing as Wendy. Don’t fall into this trap. But invite your niece from time to time on your terms.
    Don’t start a martyrdom for the sake of your nasty brother.

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  • brise July 22, 2021, 2:41 pm

    By the way, this is not “spite”, this is self-protection, or a sense of boundary. Keep it!

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  • brise July 22, 2021, 2:42 pm

    LW2: sometimes it is difficult to have to complain but here, you have to. Rise the issue as a question and see what they will answer. Then act accordingly.

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